C is for… Colostrum

Day 3 of the Farm Dictionary Advent Calendar- we’re on a roll! Today’s deep dive is on colostrum (something I find really fascinating, so I hope you do too!).

Colostrum – The first milk produced by mammals, full of antibodies (immunoglobulins) to help build the immune system of the newborn and protect it from bacteria and viruses.

Colostrum is a thick, golden yellow milk, hence its name Liquid Gold. As well as antibodies, it’s also overflowing with energy and nutrients that are vital for growth.

Calves, lambs and piglets are born with no antibodies to fight diseases and rely on the passive transfer of antibodies via colostrum. The clock’s ticking as soon as they’re born because their ability to absorb the antibodies rapidly reduces over the first 24 hours after birth, and so does the quality of the colostrum.

Cows begin to make colostrum around 5 weeks before calving, which is why we make sure we wean their previous calves before that, so they don’t compromise its production.

It’s really important newborn calves get around 10% of their body weight in colostrum (around 3 to 4 litres), ideally within their first 2 hours of life (it’s a legal requirement for them to get some within 6 hours). It can take about 20 minutes for a young calf to drink just 2 litres, so they have to feed for a while.

We tend to try and be as hands-off as possible at calving time and leave the cow and calf to bond and figure it out themselves, but if the 2 hour mark is approaching and we haven’t seen the calf latch on for a good length of time, then we step in. Some just need a bit of guidance to find the teat, and some mothers, especially first-timers, need a little reassurance that their job is to stand still.

Good colostrum intake is like having money in the bank, instead of starting off in your overdraft.

A calf who hasn’t had enough, or hasn’t had it soon enough, is prone to picking up infections and never seems to grow and thrive as well as the others who got that vital head start.

It’s so precious that if anyone has plenty to spare once their calf has had its fill, we milk some from them and freeze it in case someone else doesn’t have enough. If you find a bottle of yellow milk in our freezer, it’s not advisable to drink it!

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